first birthday of lilly mae

Hey, darling girl.

This is my fourth first birthday letter, and it may be my last. I always say (or at least feel) something like, “I can’t believe you’re ONE!” To some extent, that’s there a little- I’ve been reflecting on your birth today and it doesn’t feel so long ago.

But honestly? I can believe it. I know you’ve been with us for a whole year. I can’t really remember much of pre-Lilly life. This year’s been a whirlwind, much like Katherine’s first year was—something about the combination of a baby and a toddler makes it feel like the fastest and slowest year ever.

Anyway. Here’s the point. You fit, little girl. Some day when you’re older and these questions enter your head, you might wonder if you were just an extra. You weren’t. You fit perfectly in our family- we wouldn’t be us without you. Your sweet little scrunched up nose with the dimples (so many tiny dimples!) and your little bottom lip… You’re delightful. Jolly. Sweet-natured and chill. You’re patient with your siblings’ shenanigans.

Ever since we learned you were a girl, I’ve been excited about the big brother/little sister dynamic between you and Brian boy. I had NO IDEA. You two are so sweet together. He dotes on you, and you smile whenever you see him. I love when I have just the two of you together… He crawls around just to have you chase him, which you do with squeals of delight.

Your sisters adore you, as well. Jenna thinks she’s your mother, and Katherine is forever trying to get “the perfect setup” for you—she makes beds out of her blankets and pillows and stuffed animals “for when you sleep.” Sometimes, you even humor her by lying there for a bit.

Speaking of sleep, you’re still sleeping on the floor of my closet. I’m sorry. We really just don’t have another reasonable place for you right now. Hilariously, we’ve been swaddling you this whole time… we’re only just now giving you a free arm. This is because you’re… on the floor of my closet. Swaddling kept you still (and sleeping happily). So, as you’re fully outgrowing that, I have no clue where we’ll put you next. So that should be fun. I tell you all of this mostly to remind myself later. I’ve forgotten so many details of the last several years—apparently a lot of kids in not so many years does that—so this little quirky fact of your babyhood seems like it should be recorded somewhere, and I’m already writing here. So… Yeah. Anyway. (PS- Mama rambles.)

While I’m rambling… you’re currently crawling. This week, you started to pull up and I suspect, like your brother, you may be a late walker. (Hallelujah- mildly late mobility for the later ones is a gift.) You sing and chatter endlessly, but not much in the way of intelligible words, except when one of your siblings leaves the gate open. You crawl at top speed for the hallway and freedom, yelling, “GOGOGOGOGO!” Thank you for that, by the way—it helps me know when I need to chase you to close the gate and keep you from rolling down the steps. Again.

You’re mostly self-entertained (or sibling-entertained), which is nice. This makes it sound like I give you no attention. That’s false. You’re currently playing with my foot, and every few seconds, I look down and talk to you. You’d be fine if I didn’t, but you’re just too sweet to ignore. And, really, while you clearly have less of my attention than Jenna did when she was a baby, I think the amount of attention you get, counting the rest of the family, is far greater.

Whoops. You’re stuck under my chair. Silly girl.

(I fixed it.)

I love you so. I love that you snort when you laugh or cry really hard. I love your just-beginning curls and your sparkling brown eyes. I love how rosy you are when you fall asleep… your cheeks, nose, and lips are a bouquet of the most perfect pink. You’re growing up so well, little Lilly, and we adore you.

my kids are jerks (sharing at Kindred Mom!)

Sometimes my kids are jerks.

There. I said it.

I’m certainly not the first to say it out loud, but as a mom who is always trying to convince myself of my okayness, it’s the first time I’ve ever come out and said it to anybody, really. I’m not sure if it bothers my pride more that I called them jerks, or that sometimes it’s true.

I mean, they’re also wonderful. They’re full of curiosity, determination, light, and humor. They bring joy to my life and will be my legacy when I’m gone…but then there are those times when they’re full of sass and spite and defiance. You know. Jerks.

My oldest (six) gets argumentative… often. The other day, I corrected her for it (again). “Darling, when I give you direction, you keep coming back with disrespect and arguments that imply you know what’s best and Mama doesn’t know what she’s talking about. That has to stop.”

She responded, “No I don’t. You just think that.” 

The five-year-old was messing with the baby, making her holler. I called out from my place in the kitchen, “Katherine, I’m not sure what you’re doing, but I’m pretty sure your sister doesn’t like it.” Her reply? “I know. That’s why I’m doing it.”

My sweet toddler was cuddling with his baby sister while she nursed in my lap. He adores her and dotes on her in a way that I’ve never seen in a two-year-old boy. Suddenly, I felt him tense up and the baby shrieked. I looked down and he was biting her pointer finger. He broke skin.

So sometimes they’re jerks and I just want to yell at them. Sometimes I’m the jerk and I do… [see more.]


Read the rest over at Kindred Mom!

thirteen years: some observations from another year of marriage

I love that photo Sarah took this month. It mirrors my favorite picture from our wedding:

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It’s been thirteen years and we still love laughing together.

This year has been strange.

On the one hand, it’s been hard: I’ve watched marriages around me fall apart to different degrees for a few reasons. On the other, we’ve grown a lot. I’ve grown a lot. And it’s been good. I’ve debated much whether it’s worth putting out there—I mean, I’ve written posts every anniversary for several years now, and it seems a little indulgent to just keep going. At the same time, like our children, this marriage was designed to grow and change as it matures.

So I wanted to spend a few minutes looking at how we’ve grown this year.

I kicked my “mean husband” out of the house.

I have always sort of been prone to depression, insecurity, and a lot of negative self-talk. For the first 10-12 years of our marriage, I sort of projected all of that onto him and I assumed that the things he was thinking about me were the same awful things I was saying to myself, and I reacted based on those (false) bad motives. I can’t say I’ve outgrown that internal negativity, though I’m trying. A year or so ago, a switch flipped. I realized that I’d imagined a mean version of my husband that simply doesn’t exist and I… stopped. We now periodically joke about Mean Andrew, and he can call me on it if he senses his evil counterpart has entered the room again. It’s been a bit of a miracle to quit assuming my husband thinks all the worst things I fear true of myself.

We both feel safer.

Largely because Mean Andrew took a hike, my sweet husband doesn’t need to be afraid that I am going to freak out on him over everything and nothing. And now that I’ve figured out that I can trust my husband’s heart for me, I also feel safer.

We’re learning vulnerability.

Safety doesn’t make vulnerability easy—it’s HARD. It’s hard to entrust the deepest parts of myself to my husband. It’s hard for me to put words to these hidden parts of me. It’s hard when vulnerability from either of us so easily triggers defensiveness in the other. But we’re practicing. I can’t speak for him, but every time I manage to say whichever words are hardest to say, it makes it easier. No, that’s a lie. I felt it as soon as my fingers typed it. It hasn’t yet gotten easier. But it builds my confidence that I can, and, because he keeps loving me anyway (no matter how imperfectly), it improves my confidence that vulnerability does eventually lead to deeper intimacy between us.

Marriage and my husband both came down off their pedestals.

“Our hearts are idol-making factories.”* It’s true. And I am certain that I’ll have to revisit this as my heart tries to make these good things into God-things. But when I make my husband the object of my worship, anything he does wrong is absolutely catastrophic to my image of him. (How could it not be? God-like perfection is kind of a pass-fail thing.) When I have marriage on a pedestal, a couple of things happen. First, I expect a lot of my deepest needs to be fulfilled by the relationship which is both unrealistic and unfair. Secondly, when marriages around me unexpectedly fail, I feel deeply, personally insecure, because my faith is in “Christian Marriage” rather than Christ. (Just ask my husband how many times in the last year I’ve had to verify that he is not, in fact, cheating on me.) (Spoiler: he’s not.)

Finding my deepest security and fulfillment in Jesus is a thing I’ve struggled with for decades now, and I’m far from complete in this area, but I’ve seen some good strides in that direction this year.

Curiosity works in our favor.

Remember when my word was “wonder”? It’s good for marriage, too. It can keep me from grossly misinterpreting his motives. Also, When we’re at odds and neither of us even necessarily remember what the initial problem is because it’s spiraled out to be about all the Big Things that it’s always about, curiosity gives me a way to shift my heart toward my husband. I’ve heard “listen to understand, not to respond” since before we married, but it’s hard to do that when I’m just pissed and hurt. Curiosity doesn’t necessarily get me out of these tangles because I have to remember to want to stop. But once I do want to stop, adopting curiosity as an attitude toward him softens us both.

“I love you” is a short and simple sentence. But over this thirteenth year, I’ve come to a greater understanding of myself, of my husband, and of love, so “I love you” means a different and deeper thing than it did last year. And I am confident that as we both grow toward Jesus and each other, that will keep being true, year after year.


* “Our hearts are idol-making factories” is a quote from Counterfeit Gods, by Tim Keller. Coincidentally, Keller also wrote The Meaning of Marriage, which I just finished this morning and can safely say is the best book of the several dozen I’ve read on marriage.

my grace is all you need

I got a journaling Bible last month.

It’s not a huge deal… I just wanted to try a new way to interact creatively (and, more importantly, slowly) with the Word. It’s been good for me, though I’ve only done a couple entries.

The other day, I decided I was going to do 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

This verse is important to me. I mean, my blog is named “grace enough” because I really do believe that his grace is all I need. There’s always just enough for whatever I’m dealing with, and I love that.

So I got my stuff out. I prepped the page, let the gesso dry, traced some flowers and filled them in. I masked some stuff off and tried out the pigment spray I have.

Then Lilly woke up.

I got her, nursed her, then looked up and saw a certain spunky 5-year-old looking a little bit sly and a little bit guilty in the general vicinity of my open (drying) Bible.

No.

Please no.

NOOOOOO!

She had taken a big, fat marker (black, obviously) and colored a big portion of the facing page and some of the page I had been working on.

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I lost my ever-loving mind.

What? WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS? This is why we can’t have nice things! Everything I create gets destroyed! I wasn’t even DONE! 

You guys, it was bad. My 6-year-old mini-me kept talking to me in soothing tones: “Mama, it’ll be okay. Just take some slow breaths. Slooooooow breaths. [She demonstrates.] Just settle. It’ll be oooooookaaaaaaay.”

The only thing I can say in my own defense is that I did not throw or break anything.

Surely that counts for something, right? Because I sure wanted to.

Katherine ran and hid. I spent the next 20 minutes adding terror to my rage as I ran throughout the house and yard yelling her name. (I found her on another pass through her room—just one last check before I loaded the other three into the van to search the neighborhood. She timidly whispered, “I though maybe you could use some time to cool down…”)

After all of the anger and all of the fear, I took ALL of my shame to my bedroom and threw myself on my bed, sobbing like the Disney princess I think I am.

“My grace is all you need.”

The irony.

“My power works best in weakness.” (Or, depending on your translation, “My power is made perfect” or “made greatest.”)

Well.

My entire life, I’ve read this and assumed it meant that, in our weakness, He shores us up and enables us to do what we couldn’t on our own. He does work this way in a lot of cases, both biblically and experientially, but this week I’ve been rethinking that as the only way His power is perfected in weakness.

Contextually, the weakness that Paul was begging to have removed was likely a physical difficulty, and God did not remove it. Now, of course I think the passage is more than historical account of Paul’s conversation with Jesus; we learn something about the nature of God’s heart and interaction with us as well, and provision of strength for non-physical weakness certainly falls within that, but I feel like, in my narrow, self-focused read of the passage, I missed some important possibilities.

I really wanted it to mean what I thought it did. I mean, that would be awesome, right? Any weakness I have, God compensates for… so that I don’t actually have to live with the weakness. Total win.

But perhaps, like Paul’s, my weakness is serving a purpose? Perhaps God doesn’t always want to show His power by rescuing me from my weakness. (That seems really obvious as I type it.)

Now, there’s no excuse for sin here, and there was plenty of that. My response was anything but Christlike. But the weakness—in this case mostly insecurity and a lack of emotional margin—that may have a purpose, and God likely has a reason for not rescuing me from it.

Katherine and I are okay. Apologies were made all around, and she and Jenna both got another chance to see Mama is a looooong way from perfect. Shoot, my Bible is even fine- I fixed the part of my picture that she colored on, and the black spots on the opposite page will serve quite nicely as a reminder and an illustration for me.

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My weaknesses are many.

Sometimes He shores them up; sometimes He lovingly reminds me that, even in my weakness, His grace is enough.

The rest of that verse?

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

This is me, boasting about my weaknesses. I’m more chagrined than glad, but boasting nonetheless.

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I want to be like YOU

It happens when she’s the most stressed out and anxious and tired.

My six-year-old whines, “Mom! I wanna be like YOU! I just can’t be like you!”

Now, you should know that Jenna is like me in more ways than I can count. We’re both firstborns with a lot of younger siblings. We even both hit “oldest of four” status at just barely five and a half. She likes to write. She likes to take pictures. She sounds EXACTLY LIKE ME when she talks to the littler kids. She’s precocious and independent, as I was. She loves jalapeños, for heaven’s sake. Her strengths, weaknesses, interests, and mannerisms are eerily (sometimes frustratingly) similar to mine.

So when she starts fussing about wanting to be like me, I start countering with all of these things. “Baby, you are like me. You are so like me!”

She hears none of it. “But I CAN’T be like you! I’m only six! And you’re… far too old!” (I know.) “…and you have four babies! I don’t even have one in my TUMMY. And you know how to cook! And drive! I can’t do any of those things! I. JUST. CAN’T. BE. YOU.”

You know what? I feel her pain.

I have the same problem. I’ve been living this life as a follower of Jesus since I was younger than she is now, and I get frustrated.

He’s gentle and kind. Usually, I’m neither of those things. I want to interact with my kids in ways that are calm, consistent, and compassionate, but in general, I can hit two out of those three on a good day.

I get angry about really stupid things. For instance, nap time. When somebody wakes the little two during that sacred space in the afternoon reserved for glamorous things like bathroom cleaning and meal prep, I about lose. my. mind. I don’t think Jesus would get enraged at a random teenager playing basketball in the street because she caused His dog to bark and wake the babies. He gets angry, certainly, but not over inconveniences.

He is wise. I… try really hard. Most days, though, I’m at a loss. I have these little ones and I’m supposed to teach them how to be people, but I don’t even know how to be a person sometimes. I’m not sure what to do when my kid’s teacher lets me know that she’s been getting calls from other students’ parents because mine plays rougher than she should sometimes. I don’t know exactly what will connect with my kids’ hearts to impress upon them that sneaking out of their rooms at six in the morning to play with the iPad and go for a walk outside is SERIOUSLY not okay. I alternate between overreacting and underreacting. I want to parent with grace and truth, but I can’t find that line. I am fairly certain Jesus isn’t completely winging it like I am.

He is righteous, faithful, impartial. He knew Scripture very well (well enough to do battle with it when he was 40 days without food) and He was in constant communion with the Father.

He’s growing me in each of those areas, but I’m really not there yet.

As I sit here, listing off all the ways I’m NOT like Jesus, I’m tempted to be discouraged. All I can see is the ways that I fall short and how those insufficiencies affect the people around me. But then I hear Him telling me the same things I told Jenna the last time she and I had that conversation.

It’s fine.  

You have time.

That’s what you’re here for: to learn how to be like Me. That is the entire point.

 You’ll learn all of those things and it’s completely okay that you don’t have them all under control right this second. I’ll teach you when the time comes.

I love how much you want to be like me. You already ARE like me in more ways than you know. 

Try to get some rest. I love you.

 And, like my firstborn, I’m learning (very slowly) to obey and to rest in the truth that “God, who began the good work within [me], will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Phillipians 1:6, NLT)

We will get there, friend. Slowly, incrementally, but as sure as His promises, He’ll continue His work in us.

 

 

 

 

 

a family shaped by grace

I’ve been pondering how to talk to you about this. One of my favorite things about hanging out online with writer types has been launch teams. I didn’t even see that coming; didn’t really consider what happens when a book comes out. Sometimes, there’s a team of people who get to read the book before it is available to buy, and then share it with their friends as they like. I enjoyed the stories in All the Pretty Things and Love Him Anyway, so those were fun and easy to share with you.

A Family Shaped by Grace is different. I mean, I certainly enjoyed it. Gary’s voice is relatable and kind. But, you guys. It’s so useful.

This isn’t a parenting book.

Or a marriage book.

This really is about any family relationships.

In a humble, gentle way, Gary talks about the things that you and your family probably do that create friction, then shines light on each, giving intensely practical steps to move away from disharmony and toward grace, through the gospel.

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This isn’t a magic bullet. He reminds us over and over that you can only control your own actions, but also that, within a family, your actions are contagious in the best ways. You guys know how much I love minigoals… Well, he even crossed that concept with showing grace to your family members. (Even that family member. You know the one. He calls that one your nemesis, and helps you come up with a game plan for making that bad relationship even one step better.)

(Side note: this book handles good, normal, and difficult relationships, but the “difficult” ones are what I’d call “normal bad” relationships. He doesn’t address abusive dynamics. If you are in an abuse situation, this book won’t address it.) 

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Bottom line? If you want your family relationships to reflect a bit more grace, this book is worth owning.

And there’s a BONUS. 

This book is available for pre-order for a couple more days. It’s currently like 40% off on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and CBD, and probably anywhere else. So, for less than $9, you can order it and it’ll ship on June 6.

But also…

If you preorder, click here and you also get a short video course for free.

I’ve been through the course. It’s good content. And it’s available for anybody who preorders through June 5th (Monday.) Once it starts shipping on the sixth, it’s gone.

Here’s the deal. I like you. I’m glad you’re here and thankful that you take time to read my words. I want good things for you. Grace is a good thing, and this is a super inexpensive book with a whole kit of tools to spread more grace through your family.

(In case you’re wondering, I get nothing from sales- I don’t even have affiliate links. The only thing I got related to this post was an advance copy of the book, so I could review it. It was just well worth my time to read and I think it will be worth yours, as well.) 

 

Katherine’s fifth birthday

Hello, darling!

I just reread through last year’s letter, curious how things have changed in the last 365 days.

Mostly, you have become more you. And I know that’s how it goes, but it’s fun to see you become. You are a delight. You’re full of fire, light, spunk, and determination. There is might and sweetness. There are cuddles and fits. Your skin is still baby-soft and your grin is as impish as ever. You fear almost nothing right now, which is both beautiful and terrifying to your mama.

Sweet girl, a few weeks ago, you and Jenna got into a discussion in the car. Jenna asked which parent she was most like (me) and you asked, too (your daddy.) Then Jenna, being Jenna and the oldest and sometimes less than gracious, was taunting you, holding over your head that she was more like me than you.

You spent the next several days doing and saying things, followed by “am I acting like you, mama?”

It was both flattering and heartbreaking.

I told you this then, but I want to have it in writing:

I don’t want a version of you that is more like me.

I mean, in the ways I’m growing to be like Jesus, by all means… follow me as I follow Him. But in all the other things?

I want YOU. Just you. The you-est version.

I know it’s not always easy to be you. You’re close enough to your sister to feel compared to her frequently, but tailing her by just enough that you feel less-than. (For the record, I don’t see you as less than Jenna.) Your personality is big and your feelings are big and your voice is big and your impulse control isn’t quite developed yet and that causes some friction.

Can I be honest with you? I am ever so excited to see what all of that means as you grow up.

You’re strong and fierce.

That makes you challenging to parent, but it also means you are going to be unstoppable as a big person. (Well, you’re basically unstoppable now.) And now, while you do the hard work of pointing all that strength and fierceness in the right direction, you manage to be delightful and hilarious.

I adore you, my girl. You’re growing up just right. I’m praying for you this year, that you grow in grace and wisdom and self-control. You’re doing a good job.